What is the Difference Between Gabapentin and Xanax?

What is the Difference Between Gabapentin and Xanax

Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions that cause feelings of worry or panic that are significant enough to interfere with your daily life. There are a few different types of anxiety disorders, but each one comes with racing thoughts, stress, and physical symptoms like panic attacks.

According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), 19.1% of U.S. adults struggle with anxiety conditions.[1]

While many anxiety disorders can be treated with therapy, medication can also be helpful. Doctors often prescribe medication to treat anxiety that is not resolved within therapy. Two medications that are commonly used in the treatment of anxiety are Xanax and gabapentin. Xanax is a benzodiazepine while gabapentin is an anticonvulsant that may be used off-label for anxiety.

When you are deciding between two different medications for your anxiety, it is important to have all of the facts. Knowing the differences between these substances can help you understand which is right for you.

In this article, you will learn:

  • What Xanax (alprazolam) is
  • What Gabapentin is
  • The differences between gabapentin and Xanax
  • The dangers and risks associated with abusing gabapentin or Xanax

What is Xanax?

Xanax (alprazolam) is a benzodiazepine medication used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. By increasing the amount of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, Xanax can lessen physical symptoms of anxiety quickly. For this reason, it is often used to treat panic attacks that are caused by anxiety disorders.

The side effects of Xanax include:[2]

  • Dizziness and drowsiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Talkativeness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Dry mouth or increased salivation
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Trouble urinating
  • Joint pain

While Xanax is a prescription drug that is effective in managing anxiety, it is only intended for short-term use. Long-term use of Xanax can lead to physical dependence and addiction. Suddenly stopping the use of Xanax could lead to withdrawal symptoms.

If you have an addiction in your medical history, you should avoid taking alprazolam. This medication is commonly abused for its euphoric and relaxing high. The risk of dependence is substantially increased if you have ever struggled with substance abuse before.

What is Gabapentin?

Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant medication that decreases seizures by reducing abnormal activity in the brain. It is also used to treat nerve pain, as it changes the way the body senses pain. Gabapentin might also be used to treat anxiety off-label, as it stabilizes the nervous system.

The common side effects of gabapentin include:[3]

  • Dizziness and drowsiness
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Headaches
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Coordination issues
  • Memory problems
  • Strange or unusual thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Increased appetite and weight gain

While gabapentin is effective in managing seizures and neuropathic pain, some people misuse the medication. According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), 1% of the population abuses gabapentin. Additionally, 40 to 65% of people with a prescription for gabapentin are misusing it.[4]

While gabapentin may be abused, it takes a large amount of the medication to experience a high. People who abuse gabapentin often combine it with other drugs like opioids. If you are considering taking gabapentin, you should avoid doing so if you have a history of substance abuse.

Gabapentin vs Xanax: Comparing the Two

While gabapentin and Xanax are both used to treat anxiety, they have plenty of differences to be aware of. First, gabapentin is mainly intended to treat seizures and nerve pain, while Xanax is specifically for anxiety and panic disorders. That being said, there is a higher risk of abuse and addiction associated with Xanax than gabapentin.

The main differences between Xanax and gabapentin include:

Risk of Addiction

The most important difference to discuss is the risks of addiction associated with Xanax and gabapentin. While both medications can be abused, one poses a higher risk of causing the development of a substance use disorder.

Xanax is a benzodiazepine, a class of medications that are notorious for being addictive. However, some people abuse gabapentin, too. You should consult with a healthcare professional to decide which medication poses a lower risk of addiction for you.

Conditions Treated

Gabapentin and Xanax are intended to treat different medical conditions. First, Xanax is FDA-approved to treat anxiety conditions like panic disorder. It treats anxiety by controlling the amount of GABA in your brain.

On the other hand, gabapentin is FDA-approved to manage seizures and neuropathic pain. It can help treat conditions like epilepsy and nerve pain caused by conditions such as diabetes and shingles. However, doctors use gabapentin off-label to manage anxiety.

Onset of Action

Gabapentin and Xanax have different onsets of action. Xanax is short-acting, so it can provide immediate relief for panic attacks. That means it is preferred for situational anxiety instead of a medication that you take at the same time every day.

In contrast, gabapentin takes a little bit more time to begin working. You have to take gabapentin daily to begin experiencing the benefits. It’s better used to treat anxiety conditions that cause symptoms all day, instead of short-lived panic attacks that require immediate relief.

Side Effects

Common side effects of gabapentin include dizziness, drowsiness, vomiting, and swelling of the extremities. More serious side effects might consist of tremors, mood changes, and coordination issues.

On the other hand, common side effects of Xanax include dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, blurry vision, increased salivation, and changes in appetite. The serious side effects could include memory issues, speech problems, and muscle weakness.

If you are concerned about the side effects of either medication, you should consult with your doctor. They can help you weigh the risks and benefits of taking each substance.

Drug Interactions

Gabapentin and Xanax have different drug interactions that you should be aware of, especially if you take other medications.

Gabapentin is known to negatively interact with:

  • Antacids
  • Opioids like morphine
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Alcohol
  • Certain antipsychotics like aripiprazole

Xanax should not be taken with:

  • Antivirals for HIV or hepatitis
  • Medications for fungal infections like ketoconazole, posaconazole, or itraconazole
  • Clarithromycin
  • Grapefruit juice
  • Opioids
  • Sodium oxybate

These medications might interact negatively with other substances as well. Always ask your pharmacist or doctor before adding a new medication with Xanax or gabapentin.

Find Help for Drug Abuse and Addiction

If you or a loved one suffers from drug addiction or a mental health condition like anxiety, PAX Memphis is here to help. Attending treatment will allow you to develop the tools and support you need to regain control over your life.

At PAX Memphis, we can connect you with an addiction or mental health treatment center in your area. Additionally, if you have co-occurring disorders, we will find you a dual-diagnosis rehab center near you. Our team of professionals will get to know you and your needs to create a personalized recommendation for local treatment centers.

Contact us today for more information on how to get connected with addiction and mental health treatment.

References:

  1. The National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH): Any Anxiety Disorder 
  2. Medline Plus: Alprazolam
  3. Medline Plus: Gabapentin
  4. The National Library of Medicine (NLM): Gabapentin misuse, abuse, and diversion: A systematic review

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

About

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.